Directed by Bryan Singer; written by Christopher McQuarrie
Polygram Filmed Entertainment/Gramercy Pictures, 1995
Cast includes: Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollak, Benicio Del Toro, Pete Postlethwaite, Chazz Palmenteri, Susy Amis
Ranked #10 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 10 greatest films in the genre “Mystery” in June 2008.
Won Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (Kevin Spacey) and Original Screenplay (Christopher McQuarrie).
Ranks #25 in the IMDB List of Top 250 Films voted by users. It is just below The Silence of the Lambs and just above Psycho.
Five Criminals. One Line Up. No Coincidence.
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn’t exist.
In a world where nothing is what it seems you’ve got to look beyond…The Usual Suspects.
The truth is always in the last place you look.
A boat, believed to have $91 million in cocaine on board, is docked at a pier in San Pedro, just south of L.A.
Suddenly an enormous explosion rips through the still of the night and you know that whatever or whoever was unlucky enough to be on that boat was blown halfway to hell. Within hours, a charred floating carcass is all that’s left. That, and twenty-seven dead bodies. Miraculously, there are two survivors: a Hungarian gangster who lies, clinging to life and burnt to a crisp, in a hospital bed; and Roger “Verbal” Kint, a crippled con-man from New York.
As U.S. Customs Special Agent David Kujan conducts his grueling inquisition, Kint weaves a tale that begins six weeks earlier, at a police lock- up in New York. Five felons, accused of hijacking a truckload of gun parts in Queens, are brought in for a line-up. The cops don’t have much in the way of evidence, so the five are held overnight.
Five criminals. Five criminal minds. One night. One plan. They are suspects. Strangers. With one thing in common: Keyser Soze — a criminal so feared, so fabled, even the icy glares of these cold-blooded killers burn with terror at the mere mention of his name.
And now, the only one who can identify Keyser Soze, believed to be at the heart of this dockside massacre, is the hospitalized Hungarian. So while an FBI sketch artist struggles to complete his rendering of Soze before the witness dies, Verbal Kint sits in the D.A.’s office, taking Kujan through the steps that led him there.
The inquisition is arduous. Kujan is relentless. Hour after hour he probes. Kint wavers and, finally, breaks. In the end, a pathetic, low-life con-man is outwitted by a smart, shrewd U.S. government agent.
Or is he?
Held in an L.A. interrogation room, Verbal Kint attempts to convince the feds that the mythic crime lord not only exists, but was also responsible for drawing him and his four partners into a multi-million dollar heist that ended with an explosion in San Pedro Harbor leaving few survivors.
But as Kint lures his interrogators into the incredible story of this crime lord’s almost supernatural prowess, so too will you be mesmerized by a lore that is completely captivating from beginning to end!
Winner of two 1995 Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay, this masterful, atmospheric film noir enraptured audiences with its complex and riveting storyline, gritty, tour-de-force performances and a climax that is truly deserving of the word stunning.
More posters for The Usual Suspects are in the Gallery.
scene: Who’s the Gimp
scene: A Bad Day
Scene: Keaton Was Keyser Soze
More screencaps for The Usual Suspects are in the Gallery. Thanks to LucilleP for these beauties.
The cast carries the emotional ball. The Usual Suspects is acted to sweet perfection. Baldwin and Pollak engage in teasing homoerotic banter that ripples with psychosexual undercurrents. Newcomer Del Toro is a star in the making, using slurred speech and spastic body movements to nail the jitters beneath Fenster’s studly bravado. Whatever this guy is doing, you can’t take your eyes off him; he’s electrifying. And Byrne, brooding and brutal, turns Keaton into an enigma as hypnotic as Keyser Soze.
The movie boasts a wealth of rich character performances. As Kint, Spacey isn’t playing his usual sinister wise guy; he’s a dope and a weakling. And yet, Spacey lets us in on the sly intelligence working behind Kint’s ineffectual pose. In contrast, Byrne’s Keaton is a powerhouse. Smoky and brooding, Keaton wants to bury his dark past and establish a legitimate life with his lawyer girlfriend (Suzy Amis). But when it becomes clear that his only alternative is to play along, he turns his attention to pulling off the job with merciless professionalism.
The late Pete Postelthwaite as Kobayashi,
being menaced by Gabriel Byrne’s Dean Keaton
The pleasures begin from the opening moments, as John Ottman’s resplendent classical score backdrops some eyepopping Panavision images of an unseen man shooting Gabriel Byrne and starting a huge fire dockside in San Pedro…
Every one of the thesps playing gang members makes a strong impression, although the performance that pops out is that of relative unknown Benicio Del Toro, whose unusual line readings and idiosyncratic mannerisms are mesmerizing. Stephen Baldwin’s muscular presence and fierce personality indicate much promise in tough, highly masculine roles, Byrne is at his ambivalent best, Kevin Pollak contributes some very funny sass and verve, while Spacey is terrific as the mysterious weak link in the chain of thieves.
Besides Verbal, the felon we see most is Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), an ex-con turned businessman. Keaton’s moral nature is one of the big questions of the picture. Is he a reluctant criminal or a mastermind? A loyal friend or a heartless monster? Seeing him from Verbal’s perspective, he’s a decent guy, the kind of brooding stoic that Byrne can play in his sleep.
But the real Keaton is elusive, and it’s only after some hard thinking once the movie is over that the viewer can be sure of the truth.
Mr. Showbiz/F. X. Feeney (website no longer available)
Byrne is a stand-up poet the way some actors are stand-up comics. His innate depth prompts The Usual Suspects to transcend its own cleverness–and this is the movie’s smartest, least predictable surprise.
Empire/Angie Errigo [the link to this review is no longer available]
The ultimate accolade is that one can’t say the film “doesn’t hold up” on seeing it again, and again. It doesn’t add up, it doesn’t hold true, but it remains a madly captivating bafflement.
Verdict: Brilliant up to the very last, brilliant, twist.
A slick triumph of casting and wordplay, The Usual Suspects was one of the most fiendishly intricate American films of the 1990s. Relentlessly stylish and growing more convoluted by the frame, the film invited its audience to take part in the confusion, to attempt to discern illusion from reality as if watching a magician’s act. What makes The Usual Suspects remarkable is that fact and fiction never evolve into distinct entities, entwining in an almost indiscernible jumble to baffle the viewer. Like the all-important but (largely) unseen Keyser Soze, Suspects’ genius rested in holding its audience hostage to the intangible, making it equally impossible to believe what you’ve seen or dismiss what you haven’t. In turn, the film is shamelessly manipulative, demanding the audience’s complete involvement and undivided attention; a bathroom break carries the risk of losing the plot entirely. As the men caught up in the film’s labyrinthine intrigue, Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro, Kevin Pollak, and Stephen Baldwin fit their roles perfectly, demonstrating an ensemble casting coup. Spacey, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Verbal Kint, is particularly impressive, managing to be pathetic, off-handedly irreverent, and cunning all at once. The qualities on display in his performance make him the poster child for the film’s overall tone: shifty, garrulous, and altogether not to be trusted, Spacey’s Kint embodies the film’s compulsive, charming will to deception. Director Bryan Singer handles his characters and the film’s many twists with the ease of a devious master puppeteer, mixing liberal doses of film noir, humor, and intrigue with refreshing audacity. The result was one of the most accomplished thrillers of the decade, a mystery whose wild manipulations came courtesy of a director whose hands were very tightly gripped around the controls. —Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi
Verbal: What the cops never figured out, and what I know now, was that these men would never break, never lie down, never bend over for anybody. Anybody.
the first lines of the film
Keyser Soze: How you doing Keaton?
Keaton: I can’t feel my legs… Keyser.
Keaton: His name is Verbal. Verbal Kint.
Verbal: Roger, really. People say I talk too much.
Hockney: Yeah, I was just about to tell you to shut up.
Keaton: There’s no way they’d line five felons in the same room, no way.
Keaton: Hey, uh… friend of mine in New York tells me that you know, that you knew Spook Hollis.
Redfoot the Fence: The way I hear it, you did time with old Spook. Good man, wasn’t he? I used to run dope for him. Too bad he got shivved.
Keaton: Yeah… I shivved him. Better you hear it from me now than from somebody else later.
Redfoot the Fence: I appreciate that. But just out of curiosity, was it business or personal?
Keaton: A bit of both.
Keaton: [after finding Fenster’s body] It’s not payback! It’s precaution. You want payback? You wanna run? I don’t care! I’m not doing this for Fenster, I’m not doing it for you… I’m doing it for me. I’m gonna finish this thing. This Kobayashi bastard is not gonna stand on me!
Verbal: Keaton always said, “I don’t believe in God, but I’m afraid of him.” Well I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Soze.
Keaton: You give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you right now.
Keaton: There’s no fucking coke.
Verbal Kint says “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing man he didn’t exist”. This quote from the French poet Charles Baudelaire also appears in End of Days, also featuring Gabriel Byrne and Kevin Pollak.
All of the characters’ names stem from the staff members of the law firm and the detective agency that Christopher McQuarrie worked at when he was young.
Actor Gabriel Byrne, when asked at a film festival, “Who is Keyser Soze?” replied, “During shooting and until watching the film tonight, I thought I was!”
According to Bryan Singer in the DVD Commentary, when he was trying to get Gabriel Byrne to put on the hat and coat and pretend to be Keyser Soze, Byrne kept resisting and kept demanding to know why Singer wanted him to dress up as Keyser. Singer says that he finally blurted out to Byrne “It’s because I’m a big Miller’s Crossing fan!” Byrne starred in Miller’s Crossing which features thematic imagery of Byrne in a hat and overcoat and a scene of Byrne’s hat flying away.
The police lineup scene ran into scheduling conflicts because the actors kept blowing their lines. Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie would feed the actors questions off-camera and they improvised their lines. When Stephen Baldwin gave his answer, he made the other actors break character. Byrne remembers that they were often laughing between takes and “when they said, ‘Action!’, we’d barely be able to keep it together.” Spacey also said that the hardest part was not laughing through takes, with Baldwin and Pollack being the worst culprits. Their goal was to get the usually serious Byrne to crack up. They spent all morning trying unsuccessfully to film the scene. At lunch a frustrated Singer angrily scolded the five actors, but when they resumed the cast continued to laugh through each take. Byrne remembers, “Finally, Bryan just used one of the takes where we couldn’t stay serious.” Editor John Ottman used a combination of takes and kept the humor in to show the characters bonding with one another.
1. Found in translation: screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie reportedly chose the name “Keyser Soze” with help from an English-to-Turkish dictionary.
2. Al Pacino calls The Usual Suspects the film he regrets turning down the most (he had to pass due to scheduling conflicts, which turned out to be great news for Chazz Palminteri).
3. The only man for the job: the part of Verbal Kint was written with Kevin Spacey in mind.
4. Paying it forward: Spacey suggested Benicio Del Toro for the role of Fred Fenster, although McQuarrie had intended the part for a “Harry Dean Stanton” type.
5. The cast was encouraged to ad lib natural reactions to Del Toro’s hilariously broken English. We’re guessing that accounts for all the giggles during the line-up scene.
6. More ad-libby goodness: Redfoot the Fence was supposed to flick his cigarette at McManus’ chest, not his face. So Stephen Baldwin’s reaction is 100% real.
7. Also real? Those stolen emeralds! The production managed to borrow honest-to-goodness gemstones for the film.
8. On set birthday buddies: both Stephen Baldwin and Gabriel Byrne were born on May 12th.
9. Spacey utters Baudelaire’s famous quote “the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing man he didn’t exist.” Rod Steiger says the same line in End of Days, a movie that also happens to feature usual suspects Gabriel Byrne and Kevin Pollak.
10. “Be cool, guys – my mom’s here.” Director Bryan Singer’s mother scores a cameo as a hospital nurse.
Premise and Mystery: a Review of The Usual Suspects by Bill Johnson (Spoiler Alert! He starts with the ending of the film, so do not go here unless you want a close analysis of the plot and the writing!)
Crime Movies: The Usual Suspects at NOIRWhale looks at the elements of classic noir films and applies them:
behind the scenes/making of
The lonely sound of a buoy bell in the distance. Water slapping against a smooth, flat surface in rhythm. The creaking of wood.
Off in the very far distance, one can make out the sound of sirens.
SUDDENLY, a single match ignites and invades the darkness. It quivers for a moment. A dimly lit hand brings the rest of the pack to the match. A plume of yellow-white flame flares and illuminates the battered face of DEAN KEATON, age forty. His salty-gray hair is wet and matted. His face drips with water or sweat. A large cut runs the length of his face from the corner of his eye to his chin. It bleeds freely. An un-lit cigarette hangs in the corner of his mouth.
In the half-light we can make out that he is on the deck of a large boat. A yacht, perhaps, or a small freighter. He sits with his back against the front bulkhead of the wheel house. His legs are twisted at odd, almost impossible angles. He looks down….
More wallpapers are in the Gallery.
Trivia at Wikipedia: Gabriel Byrne as Dean Keaton: Kevin Spacey met Byrne at a party and asked him to do the film. He read the screenplay and turned it down, thinking that the filmmakers could not pull it off. Byrne met screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie and Singer and was impressed by the latter’s vision for the film. However, Byrne was also dealing with some personal problems at the time and backed out for 24 hours until the filmmakers agreed to shoot the film in Los Angeles, where the actor lived, and make it in five weeks.
The Usual Suspects Drinking Game
This drinking game is to be played with The Usual Suspects and the alcoholic beverage of your choice.
1 drink – every time you see someone smoke
1 drink – every time Verbal Kint does something in a crippled manner or can’t do something because of his disability
1 drink – every time Fenster says a sentence
1 drink – every time someone gets shot
1 drink – every time Kint says some random fact about himself
The Goodwill Challenge: Every time you see Verbal Kint’s gimp foot walking, drink continuously.
Read the posting that introduces this Mega Movie Page!